More than 25 years have passed since the beginning of Georgia’s armed conflicts — more than enough time for Georgian society and the political elite to assess what happened and why. It’s important that we evaluate where our progress stands in solving these conflicts, and whether we, as a country, need to reevaluate our aims and revise our policy — whether the achieved result are acceptable or not and if not, what we can change. [Read more…]
Opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan has called for more anti-government protests on 1 May, when Armenia’s parliament, the National Assembly, is set elect a new prime minister. Acting PM Karen Karapetyan cancelled negotiations with Pashinyan set for noon on Friday, arguing the talks were ‘not aimed at achieving any result’. Pashinyan had insisted the talks, which he said were to negotiate the peaceful transfer of power, take place in front of journalists.
A sugar factory in Agara, a town west of Tbilisi, is set to reopen after dozens of workers marched 110 kilometres to Tbilisi in protest its closure. An agreement to renovate the factory and reopen it on 1 June was announced on Wednesday, several days after the march. [Read more…]
Holes dot the tarmac, there are so many that the passageway hardly looks like a road - yet that four-kilometre strip from the Gyumri Armavir highway is a lifeline for the 500-odd residents of Haykadzor, a settlement sitting right on the border dividing Turkey and Armenia.
Once a buzzing border village, Haykadzor has steadily lost its residents and, as access to water is increasingly difficult, those who remain are thirsty, just like the land surrounding them. The village cheers up once every three days, during the so-called ‘water days,’ when they have to store enough water for the 'dry days.’ The water from the nearby reservoir is supplied through an electricity-powered network that is too expensive for the villagers - as they cannot afford the cost of the system for the daily delivery, the tap is open just twice a week.
The old people who gather near the only shop to play backgammon still recall the days when they could swim in the Akhuryan, the river flowing along the border with Turkey,forming part of the geographical frontier between the two countries. All that was before the 1950s. When Turkey joined Nato in 1952, the river ended up beyond the barbed wire and, as the Cold War got increasingly chilling, Haykadzor became a sensitive spot. A buffer zone was created and part of the village was moved. The situation seemed to be about to improve at the fall of the Soviet Union, but then in 1993 Ankara sealed the border with Armenia in light of the conflict with Azerbaijan over the breakaway region of Nagorno Karabakh. The buffer zone remained and to date villagers who want to visit their land in the area need special permission from the border guards to cultivate their plots. Lacking an irrigation system, the soil gets water only when it rains, so the harvest depends on “God’s will.”
A few meters to the other side of the line is also the village’s only church, built in the VIII century, named the Saint Gregory The Enlightener, which they can visit three times a year.
As water is limited, so is the connection to the world. The last train to call in the station was in 1991 and, about three years later the Bagravan station, about nine kilometres away, was closed - leaving the village in isolation. Today a 13-seat minibus is the only means of public transport, the inhabitants share it with four neighboring villages. It has steadily lost its residents, leaving behind mainly the elderly who see no reason to depart. Like Yeranos Gasparyan, 60, the only person remaining, along with his sister and wife, he is the last of what once was a large family. 10-year-old Vardan is one of the 37 pupils attending the only school - a top math student - he has seen Yerevan only once from afar, when he went to the airport to meet his uncle returning from Russia.
Story by Hermine Virabyan and Aren Melikyan
Two Turkish citizens wanted in Turkey for ‘terrorism’ had been hiding in the Tbilisi residence of Georgian Patriarch Ilia II, Georgian opposition TV channel Rustavi 2 reported on 16 September. Giorgi Andriadze, an academician with close ties to the Patriarchate, has claimed that the suspects were not terrorists, but members of a persecuted ethnic minority. [Read more…]
Fifty-one members of Georgia’s Parliament are engaged in private business, while sixteen have not officially declared their ties with them, a new report from the anti-corruption organisation Transparency International — Georgia (TI) claims. [Read more…]
Students, together with human rights activists and trade unions, organised a demonstration on 7 February in Georgia’s capital, to protest the mass firing of employees from a nitrogen plant in Rustavi, a town 20 km south of Tbilisi.
On the day after an enormous fire engulfed the Bavshvta Samyaro shopping centre in central Tbilisi on 31 January, the hundreds of vendors affected have received a small ray of hope. Gold and silver jewelry, which had been kept in safes in the building’s basement, have survived the fire. [Read more…]
The children’s cemetery in Sumqayit is a dark reminder of the high level of children born with birth defects. The Sumgayit cemetery reveals the tragic story that was hidden for so long during the Soviet period. Dead babies don't lie.
"A mixture of strange feelings came over me when I first heard about the children's cemetery in my home city of Sumgayit. Curiosity pushed me forward to learn more and I started to gather information and asked the older generations including my parents about the cemetery. But to my surprise, I got only scanty information so far. My Internet searches ended up with poor results as well. Yet many trip advisors suggested the unique cemetery with an entire section of childrens' graves as a must see place in Sumgait. I decided to visit the cemetery. A collection of little headstones all of the same size and age made me feel depressed and melancholic. I talked to Mollah (title of respect used in Islamic countries for one who is learned in Islamic law) and he said that the cemetery is the final resting place for the children ranging between the age 1 to 5 years old. It is said that the plant producing lindane had fatal environmental consequences and as a result children with poor health died. The plant was closed after two year of production which took away so many innocent lives. The image in front of me was hard to comprehend, it was painful to see that those little children would have been my age…"
Sumqayit, one of the largest and youngest cities in Azerbaijan (after Baku and Ganja), located on 30 km away from the capital Baku on the Caspian coast, and founded on November 22, 1949, is home to one of the largest chemical industrial complexes in the entire former USSR.
"Sumgayit was a major Soviet industrial center housing more than 40 factories that manufactured industrial and agricultural chemicals. These included synthetic rubber, chlorine, aluminium, detergents, and pesticides especially chlororganic products such as hexochlorine, DDT, Lindane, and caustic sodium. While the factories remained fully operational, 70-120,000 tons of harmful emissions were released into the air annually."
Sumqayit is included in the world’s top 10 most-polluted cities in the world. This list was published in 2007 by the Blacksmith Institute, a New York-based environmental health NGO.
Many children were born with defects such Monoglism, anencephalia (no brain), spina bifida (absence of one or more vertebra arches), hydrocephalus (enlarged head with excessive mount of fluid), osteochandro dystrophy (bone disease), and mutations such as club feet, cleft palate, four or six fingers or toes. Once a child was born with its heart on the right side. Others injure the heart, internal organs, bones, and teeth. Others suppress the immune system. Now I remember that when we were small, our haemoglobin was below common standards, but the doctors said that it was normal for Sumqayit. The mutations such as four or six fingers or toes I have seen among my classmates at school, who were born in this period of time.
As a result of the Soviet planning of the industrial boom era, the city became heavily polluted. The city was famous for the industrial and agricultural chemicals industry that led to the highest rate of child mortality and as many as 275,000 people have potentially been affected by heavy metal and chemical contamination in the city.
Sumqayit had one of the highest rates of cancer in the USSR that it was as much as 51% higher than the national average and genetic mutations and birth defects were commonplace according to a study by UNDP, WHO, the Azerbaijani Health Ministry and the University of Alberta.
The city administration prepared an environmental protection plan from 2003–2010 which steadily helped to decrease the levels of pollution to minimal amounts. For instance, the amount of waste water from industrial production went down from 600 thousand m3 during the 1990s to 76.3 thousand m3 in 2005. The government used to compensate workers by providing milk, cheese, and meat to those at factories where toxicity was known to be high. Some changes have been made; still revolutionary changes are needed. Environmentalists have managed to get a few factories closed including the Lindane factory.
Azerbaijanis are proud of this city. They built it with their own hands during this century and they appreciate its ethnic mix of Azerbaijanis, Russians, Georgians, Jews, Udins, Lezghins, Moldovians, Ukrainians, Belarussians, Kurds, Talysh and Armenians (an estimated 200 still live in the city today according to the mayor).
Today, the majority of factories have been closed down and others were renovated by local state agencies such as SOCAR. But the city still bears the scars of its industrial past -- with heavy metals, oil, and chemical contamination.
Four cities in the former Soviet Union appear in Blacksmith's top 10. The others are Chornobyl in Ukraine, and Dzerzinsk and Norilsk in Russia.